In our previous post, we suggested that, in “the development field,” culture talk may already look different from the time we wrote Seeing Culture Everywhere, and that the kind of para-ethnographic approach we argue for is gaining ground. What about the rest of the areas of public and corporate policy we cover in the book?
Huntingtonianism still rules in IR
In international relations, there is little evidence of cultural determinism becoming less popular at the level of explanations, although with the shifts in U.S. foreign policy rhetoric and the fatigue that has set in regarding Iraq and Afghanistan, the emphasis is more on solving day-to-day issues. In China, the local version of “Asian values,” centred on Confucianism, is doing better than ever and is increasingly infused into writings on foreign policy, although it is curiously combined with universalistic claims that suggest a new world system usually signified with the word tianxia, “all under heaven,” understood to mean a kind of non-Westphalian system vaguely reminiscent of tributary relations. (More on this in a forthcoming post.) Ethnic explanations of the “ancient hatreds” kind also appear to remain the most popular in armed internal conflicts.
From multiculturalism to interconfessionalism
The trends we describe in the way most Western states — including Western Europe and Australia — manage diversity continue, too. There remains a tension between the ongoing and increasingly stringent attempts to wrench rights and obligations away from previously designated ethnic “communities” and drag them back onto individuals through all kinds of “integration courses,” citizenship exams and bans on headscarves or arranged marriages, on the one hand, and the promotion of “interfaith dialogue,” with officially recognized religious leaders, on the other. Many of the problematic aspects of multiculturalist policies are now resurfacing in the form of interconfessionalist policies. We are looking forward to the findings of Thijl Sunier, Pál’s colleague, who is beginning a multi-country ethnography of Muslim organizational leadership.
Nor does the proliferation of “intercultural communication” trainings show any signs of abating, and Geert Hofstede’s “cultural dimensions” still rule the seas. We must confess that IC is an area that we particularly enjoyed lampooning; it was a pleasure, for instance, to quote from Brendan McSweeney’s brilliant piece in which he scrutinizes Hofstede’s assertion that Freud’s theories had to do with Austrian culture’s “combination of a very low power distance with a fairly high uncertainty avoidance,” which means that “there is no powerful superior who takes away one’s uncertainties.” McSweeney points out that Adolf Hitler and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, both Austrians of Freud’s generation, were rather keen on submitting to powerful superiors, although in different ways.
The Rat and the Rabbit
And finally, the battle for the group ownership of “native culture” continues. The inclusion of two bronze heads looted from the Summer Palace in Peking in last year’s auction of the Yves Saint Laurent – Pierre Berge collection triggered both official and popular protests in China, which had earlier been relatively subdued about claiming artifacts back from foreign museums. Later in the year, a Chinese archaeologist sponsored by a liquor company organised a high-profile tour of Western museums to take stock of art looted from the Summer Palace. On another front, the New York Times recently (23-24 January) reported that a performance by world ice dance champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin at the European Championships that employed Australian Aborigine motives in outfits and music was condemned by the New South Wales Aboriginal Council as another instance of “stealing Aboriginal culture.”
From culture to class, wealth and work?
All that said, we do have the impression, that the world’s mind has been taken off culture to some extent. The perceived (and perhaps real) crisis of “neoliberal” economics means a renewed attention to class, wealth, and work as generators of conflict and common interest. This attention is not always well-conceived and can be downright sinister; it can also resurrect earlier generalizations about group culture, this time linked to money. But it does perhaps generate a welcome opportunity for micro-level studies of powerful institutions.